Tajikistan relies heavily on imported goods, most of which are of Turkish, Russian or Chinese origin and those goods usually reflect only the low quality end of the range, including various obvious attempts at fake branding of western goods. In the cities, ‘supermarket’ retailing is emerging but the majority of locals still buy from traditional bazaars which exist in most villages and are worth experiencing even if you have no plans to buy anything at all.
In Dushanbe, there are several bazaars worth visiting, most notably the Zelenny (green) Bazaar where the vegetable and fruit market is particularly colourful. Barakat Bazaar is the better option for clothing but Tsum is good for a range of consumables and souvenirs.
Around Khujand, from June to September, it is worth inquiring about dried apricot bazaars, which are held fortnightly in remote locations in the countryside. They begin very early in the day to avoid too much sunshine on the products. Selling starts at sunrise and it is usually all over by 9am.
In a small district called Chkalovsk, near Khujand, there is a market held on Saturdays in the local park where the remaining local ethnic Russian community sells items of soviet memorabilia. In the soviet era this was a ‘closed city’ as there was a uranium enrichment plant here. The city appeared on no maps and was populated only by ethnic Russians, many of whom have now departed and their memorabilia are all that remain of that bygone era.
Probably the most unusual bazaar experience can be found in Murghab where old transport containers have been cut up to make a variety of small booths and shops. The significant absence of many commodities adds to the flavour of this retail graveyard.
The most popular souvenirs involve traditional needlework and patchwork designs on felt, cotton and wool handicrafts. Some development efforts have been made to try and stimulate local production of handicrafts for tourist purchase. However, poor quality designs, materials and workmanship all compound to reduce this trade to not much more than a ‘pity purchase’.
In the Eastern Pamir you can find traditional Kyrgyz headwear – the kalpak.